A crowd of 50,105 gathered at the big ballpark in the Bronx to watch the New York Rangers battle the New Jersey Devils in the NHL’s Stadium Series on Sunday afternoon. I’m glad to say I was one of the frozen.
Despite thermal admonitions that questioned my sanity, my commitment never wavered. With two coats, two pairs of socks and, yes, a long sleeve shirt, the 25-degree temperature at face-off wasn’t that bad. Granted, my brother in law Art and I kept warm for nearly an hour in the Mohegan Sun, which was turned into a giant merchandise stand (reminder to the Yankees, open up the joint during Bronx Bombers' ballgames, we’d all like equal opportunity to drop $18 on a drink).
The sun, though, of all things clouded matters at Yankee Stadium. Perhaps the NHL should have consulted with the spirit of Slew Hester about sports facility construction and New York City skies in winter, as the sun’s glare on the ice delayed the dropping of the puck from a scheduled 1:02 p.m. (ET) (yes, Mary you were right, as always) to 1:41.
While that was good news at the concession stands – the lines for beer, hot chocolate and dogs ran very deep – and for the youth hockey teams, the New York Lightning Hockey and Hockey in Newark, that received extended playing time on the small-size rink, adjoining the still-tarped main ice -- it wasn’t so welcome for Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist or NBC.
The King said he got bad info about when the warm-up would commence and took a nap, only to awaken to a nightmare as he yielded three goals on six shots in the opening period, looking decidedly slow in sliding across his crease. For its part, the Peacock had apportioned a three-hour window from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the telecast.
Ultimately, the delay didn’t matter with the Nielsens. NBC’s Jan. 26 telecast averaged a 1.3 household rating and just under 2.08 million viewers from 1:27-4:30 p.m., according to fast national data. The delivery made it the highest-rated and most-watched NHL regular-season game on the broadcast network, sans NHL Winter Classic contests.
In fact, NBC -- and for those of us in attendance (thanks, Chris) -- wound up with the perfect backdrop at the House that George Built: a second-period full of snow, when the Bronx Blueshirts (actually, they were in white as the road team to maintain Madison Square Garden’s tax exemption status) flurried four past the Devils’ legendary goalie Martin Brodeur. For the record, my colleague Kent and I thought it got colder with the snow, while Art’s sense was it provided some measure of warmth.
Serenaded during the action by Rangers’ fans rendition of “Marty, Marty,” Brodeur bitched post-game about the 10-degree differential at one end of the rink and the worst ice ever -- to his point, there was one spot on the first base side that had to be continually repaired. Brodeur’s 100th game against the Rangers was his worst outing,as he gave up six goals on just 21 shots over two periods, before he beneficently requested that coach Peter DeBoer give Cory Schneider a taste of the outdoor experience in the third period. Schneider surrendered a penalty shot to Derek Stepan to cap the 7-3 scoring.
As for the crowd, maybe it was the distance to the glass, but it was much more celebratory, than snarky. In our section (we had a fun-house view of the near boards on the third base side, while we lost perspective behind the goal on the first base end) it was cordial save for one of our neighbors, who expressed his disdain for Marek Zidlicky, every time the Devils defenseman touched the puck.
While Devils’ devotees reveled early, Rangers rooters, including Art, celebrated loudly, long and often. Maybe red’s just a more prominent color, but it looked like there were more Devils fans in the building than Rangers’ backers. However, the final in-stadium Verizon fan vote skewed 61% to Rangers, versus 39% Devils, perhaps a function of the score or more attempts on WiFi at the right time. To be kind, Yankee Stadium has spotty connectivity whether the players are swinging bats or shooting punks.
Time Warner Cable also got into the act, with video board invites to tour its downtown studios. Somehow, my son Alex’s college buddy, Kevin Gazzale -- the director of the Joe Boudreaux LSU fan sports series and a Devils' season ticket-holder, who flew up from Baton Rouge for the contest -- managed a solo shot on the big screen.
The NHL’s winter wonderland was an experience of a lifetime. Still for those attending the Rangers-Islanders matchup at Yankee Stadium Wednesday for NBCSN’s Rivalry Night, here are some words of advice: wear layers and three pairs of socks. You'll have fun.